A live soap opera in the sky isn’t as fun as it sounds

Many years ago I met a couple of flight attendants in a hostel who shared some industry secrets with me on a night out. The one that struck me most was that the reason why passengers are told to keep the blinds up during take-off and landing is to increase the chance of someone spotting anything untoward like a fire in the engine or a wing dropping off. You know, the kind of thing that requires panic and immediate attention.

So, imagine my alarm yesterday when only seconds after my flight lifted off the ground, a woman sitting in a window seat suddenly began screaming hysterically and waving her hands frantically.

“Hey! Hey!” she yelled whilst rapidly pounding her fist against her palm “Hey! HEY! Help, please! HELP!”.

A look of panic crossed the flight attendants faces. We were in a steep ascent and they were safely strapped into their seats. But this was clearly an emergency and so two attendants unstrapped and bounded over to the woman as best they could, given the uphill gradient.

My heart was in my stomach. What would be revealed? We’re we about to suffer the same tragic fate as the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash? I held my breath…

The emergency, it turns out was an argument between the woman and someone sitting next to her. The gist being, that the other person “has no respect” and it was so unbearable that she was demanding to move seats immediately. An unimpressed attendant informed her that the flight was full. There were no spare seats and she would have to wait until the seatbelt signs were off before they could discuss a solution. But she wasn’t having any of it. She stood up and tried to climb over her next door passengers into the aisle. She caused such a commotion that someone in a different row offered to swap. Except, that person was in an aisle seat and she refused to sit in an aisle seat. She wanted a window. Or in her words: “I will not accept that chair which is not a window!” Oh, it went on and on until eventually, after much mediation and an awkward game of chair swapping, she was eventually reseated (in an aisle seat) just in time for… ‘Ding!’… the captain announcing “It is now safe for passengers to remove their seatbelts.”

I spent the flight trying to figure out who she had had the argument with. She had been sitting next to a rather meek looking man with a long-suffering look about him and I forged a theory that the subject of her wrath might actually be her husband.

Well, it turns out this wasn’t the case at all. Just as we were about to land things kicked off again. Seatbelt signs were on, the aircraft was in a rapid descent and all the attendants were strapped in. Suddenly a different woman stood up and began shouting at the take-off-commotion woman. A heated squabble broke out between them and a confusing flurry of words echoed around the cabin “Hey, lady!”… “No!”… “Papa?”… all while the attendants repeatedly called over the tannoy “Get back in your seat!”. Passengers began shouting at the standing woman “Go back to your seat! We’re landing!”. But she wasn’t listening and instead threw a series of short sharp punches at the take-off-commotion woman, all to a shocked gasp from the audience of passengers.

A completely unrelated passenger leapt to her feet and with a feisty London accent challenged the take-off-commotion woman “Are you gonna take that?! I’m telling ya now, I wouldn’t be taking that! Wotcha gonna do about it?!”. It was like I’d time travelled back to school and I half expected everyone to start chanting “Fight! Fight!” while the two contenders disappeared into a blur of hair pulling and face scratching.

But before it could escalate further the attendants came tearing down the aisle, grappled with the punching lady and restrained her just as the plane touched down on the runway. The attendants then tried to force the woman back into her seat, after all the plane was still moving and we had to taxi over to the terminal. But she continued to resist and was crying out “Papa! Papa!” like a forlorn lost child. It was all rather odd until someone noticed that there was an unconscious man flopped over in the row of seats the punching women was trying to get to. It unfolded that the sick and elderly Father of the punching lady was sitting next to the take-off-commotion lady. Punching lady had noticed her Father was unconscious just before landing, hence her refusal to sit down and her lashing out at the take-off-commotion lady who refused to get out of the way so the man could be checked on.

It was a frightening and emotional scene that unfolded. The attendants were so focused on separating the two women and trying to get them to sit down they simply didn’t realise there was a medical emergency. In fact, no one realised just how severe the situation was until we’d almost come to a stop. Only then did we hear the cry “Is there a doctor on board?”.

In the movies, you always see a respectable looking older gentleman with specs and a briefcase stepping forward. But real life is rather different from what you expect. A heavily tattooed Scottish man emerged wearing a tiny white t-shirt with biceps the size of watermelons bursting out from each sleeve. “Make way! I’m a doctor!” he called and immediately set to work testing all the vitals and putting the unconscious man into the recovery position. But when he asked the attendants for some medical supplies they told him they couldn’t give him any because we were stationary on the runway and it was against the law. However, if we’d still been in the air they would be authorised to give him whatever he needed.

It turns out the unconscious guy had, had a stroke and was in pretty bad shape. Completely out cold and barely breathing, an ambulance was called and it seemed like an age before they turned up. And when they did, they boarded with the wrong equipment and the buff Scottish doctor had to give them instructions on how to evacuate the man properly. He was visibly frustrated with the situation. The frustrations were compounded by the fact that no one was allowed to disembark until after the ambulance had arrived and confoundingly, all the passengers had done what they always do when a plane stops; crowd the aisle with their necks craned and awkwardly pulling down luggage. On top of this, people were cramming around the unconscious man and one guy even began filming until someone yelled at him not to be so disrespectful.

So the medical team had to fight their way through the blocked aisle to even get to the patient. The flight attendants meanwhile, seemed to completely give up on any attempts at crowd control and simply stood at the back of the plane giggling nervously amongst themselves. While this was all going on the take-off-commotion-lady stood in the aisle tutting exaggeratedly, over and over then began demanding that we be let off the plane. To be fair, she had been assaulted and had no reason to care about the assaultee’s Father. But for someone so hung up on the concept of respect she certainly put on quite the cold-hearted display; willfully obstructing the way of the emergency staff whilst declaring loudly in a thick foreign accent “This is Ridikalus!”.

When she was told that no one could leave the plane because she and the punching woman were to be questioned by the Police she made a big song and dance about everything being “Unacceptable!”, all while a man’s life was fading away only a metre from where she stood.

It was really quite awful and honestly, I felt a bit shaken by the time we eventually made it off the plane. I wish I knew what happened to the sick man but all I know is that he was transported to the hospital and the two ladies were transported away by the police.

And now onto Larnaca!


Title Photo Photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash

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